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Remembering Little Bronco: Helen Keller

Remembering Little Bronco: Helen Keller
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M Ahmad
Born on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama (US), Helen Keller, nick named as “Little Bronco”, was the older of two daughters of Arthur H. Keller, a farmer, newspaper editor, and Confederate Army veteran, and his second wife Katherine Adams Keller, an educated woman from Memphis. Several months before Helen’s second birthday, a serious illness—possibly meningitis or scarlet fever—left her deaf and blind. She had no formal education until age seven, and since she could not speak, she developed a system for communicating with her family by feeling their facial expressions.
Schooling and Higher Education
Recognizing her daughter’s intelligence, Keller’s mother sought help from experts including inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who had become involved with deaf children. Ultimately, she was referred to Anne Sullivan, a graduate of the Perkins School for the Blind, who became Keller’s lifelong teacher and mentor.
She used touch to teach Keller the alphabet and to make words by spelling them with her finger on Keller’s palm. Within a few weeks, Keller caught on and within months Keller had learned to feel objects and associate them with words spelled out and read sentences by feeling raised words on cardboard, and to make her own sentences by arranging words in a frame.
A year later, Sullivan brought Keller to the Perkins School in Boston, where she learned to read Braille and write with a specially made typewriter. At fourteen, she went to New York for two years where she improved her speaking ability, and then returned to Massachusetts to attend the Cambridge School for Young Ladies. With Sullivan’s tutoring, Keller was admitted to Radcliffe College, where she graduted in 1904. Sullivan went with her, helping Keller with her studies. Impressed by Keller, Mark Twain urged his wealthy friend Henry Rogers to finance her education. Helen Keller had an IQ of 160. She was the first person with deafblindness to earn a college degree. From Radcliffe, no less, from which she graduated cum laude in 1904 with a Bachelor’s Degree.
Social Services
For more than sixty years Helen Adams Keller has been a world symbol of unique value. People of all races, all colors, all creeds, on all continents have found in the story of her triumph over deafhess and blindness an affirmation of courage and faith and from the example of her dedicated life hare caught a practical vision of universal brotherhood. Her service to mankind began when she was a child, not only through what someone has called “the Fact of Herself”, but through reaching out to give others who were handler ped the advantages that she herself was enjoying.
When she was eleven years old she rescued a little deaf-blind boy from an almshouse In Pennsylvania and raised money for hla education, While she was still in preparatory school she found time to work for the kindergarten for the blind in Boston and to make public appearances with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell for the benefit of the deaf. Before she was out of her twenties she had become in her own person an International clearing house for Information concerning the needs of the blind, the deaf, and the deaf-blind. In 1906, two years after she was graduated from Raddlffe College, she appeared before a joint session of the Massachusetts legislature In support to establish the first State Commission for the Blind in the united States.
Under her Inspiration the bill was passed and the governor appointed her a member of the Commission Board. In nearly every province of Canadaf In Hawaii, Japan, Korea, Manchukuo, Australia, Hew Zealand, Tasmania, Fugoslavta, Greece, Italy, France, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Israel, England, Scotland, Itaion of South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Brasil, Peru, Panama and Mexico, each of these countries can bear witness to her achievement in behalf of their handicapped, especially their blind and deaf, and to the Inspiration of her presence as a universal rallying point for all mankind. She has labored with and through organisations of world-wide scope, among them. She is known to have said, “The only thing that is worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
Political Activities
Helen Keller was a member of the United States Socialist Party and actively campaigned and wrote in support of the working classes from 1909 to 1921. She supported Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs in each of his campaigns for the presidency. Her political views were reinforced by visiting workers.
In her words, “I have visited sweatshops, factories, crowded slums. If I could not see it, I could smell it.” Helen Keller also joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor union in 1912, for their welfare & development. Helen Keller wrote for the IWW between 1916 and 1918. In “Why I Became an IWW,” she wrote that her motivation for activism came in part due to her concern about blindness and other disabilities.
A silent film, Deliverance in 1919 first told Keller’s story. The Miracle Worker, a play about how Helen Keller learned to communicate, was made into a movie three times. The 1962, The Miracle Worker version of the movie won Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Anne Bancroft who played Sullivan and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Supporting Role for Patty Duke who played Keller.
The 1984 television movie about Helen Keller’s life is The Miracle Continues. It recounts her college years and her early adult life. The Hindi movie Black released in 2005 was largely based on Keller’s story, from her childhood to her graduation. A documentary Shining Soul in which Helen Keller’s Spiritual Life and Legacy was produced and released by The Swedenborg Foundation in 2005.
Awards and Honours
The American Foundation for the Blind which she joined in 1924 and for which she was Counselor on national and International Relations, the John Milton Society for the Blind of which she was Vice-Presidents, the Lighthouse for the Blind of which she was also Vice-President. The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf (formerly the Volta Bureau) made her an Honorary Board Member.
The World Council for the Welfare of the Blind elected her to Honorary Life Membership “for having rendered outstanding service to the welfare of the blind throughout the world.” In 1951 Lions International presented her their gold medal for achievement. In 1951 the American Foundation selected her to receive its famed American Award for her magnificent contribution to the cause of unity and understanding between all countries of the Americas.
She has been honored for her service to humanity by many countries, among them are Tugoslavta (Medal of St. Sava), United Kingdom (Doctorate, Glasgow University), South Africa (Doctorate, WLtwatersrand University), Lebanon (Gold Medal of Merit), Brasil (Order of the Southern Cross), Chile (Citizen of Honor In Lima). The President of France made her Chevalier. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. The nomination came after Keller visited the Mideast in 1952 and met with local leaders to advocate for the rights of those who were blind or disabled.
A second film on her life won the Academy Award in 1955; The Miracle Worker —which centered on Sullivan—won the 1960 Pulitzer Prize as a play and was made into a movie two years later. She also received honorary doctorates from Glasgow, Harvard, and Temple Universities.
The Lions Humanitarian Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honor and election to the Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1968, Senator Lister Hill eulogized her as “One of the few persons not born to die”. She will always be known as “The first lady of courage”. She advocated for the blind and for women’s suffrage and co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1999 her name appeared on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most important figures of the 20th century, alongside such iconic figures as Albert Einstein, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi.
As an author
During her college time, Helen also started working on her first book ‘The Story of My Life,’ which later became a classic. Helen had two typewriters, one was regular and another one was Braille. She used a typewriter to write books, letters, and articles. Anne changed the college books to Braille and Helen read the book. In The Story of My Life, she writes, “Her typewriter has no special attachments.
She keeps the relative position of the keys by an occasional touch of the little fingers on the outer edge of the board.” After this success, Helen and Anne went on lecture tours throughout the world speaking on their experiences. In 1908, she wrote ‘The World I live in’. Her essay series on Socialism, ‘Out of the Dark’ was published in 1913. Her spiritual autobiography, ‘My Religion’ was published in 1927, and revised edition, “Right in My Darkness” came out in 1994. Her other books include: “Optimism”, “Rebel Lives”, “How I Would Help the World”, “The Song of the Stone Wall”, “To Live, To Think, To Hope”, “Teacher-A S Macy”, “The Open Door”, “Three Days to See”, “How I Became A Socialist”, “Mid Stream-My Latter Life”, “Arrows in Gale”, “Optimism”
Contribution towards Sign Language and Braille
Undeterred by deafness and blindness, Helen Keller rose to become a major 20th century humanitarian, educator and writer. The desire to be able to speak out became so strong, Helen even created a kind of sign language with her friend Marsha Washington – and by the time she was just seven years old, they’d already made up over 60 signs to communicate to each other.
Although she had no knowledge of written language and only the haziest recollection of spoken language, Helen learned her first word within days: “water.” Keller later described the experience: “I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.
By the age of ten, Helen Keller was proficient in reading braille and in manual sign language and she now wished to learn how to speak. Anne took Helen to the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston. Helen Keller lamented that sign language was impractical, and perhaps futile, for deaf-blind people to use. She was pleased that the advent of sign language allowed many deaf people to interact with others, but she was certain that more effective methods of deaf instruction waited to be discovered.
Helen Keller attended United Nations Genaral Assembly in 1950 along with Polly Thomson who manually signs into Keller’s right hand, interpreting what is being said and how her speech is read. In her speech she had wrote,”Let us hold up the hands of the United Nations in its noble efforts to abolish ignorance, prejudice and strife, to kindle faith in the dignity of many, and to distribute equitably the fruits of his knowledge and achievement”.
As a lesser know fact, Helen Keller loved animals such as dogs, chickens, and horses. She also enjoyed rowing and often went with her friends as it was one of her favorite hobbies. Biographies of Keller reveal she had a number of companions and friends that include Anne Sullivan and Polly Thomson Keller’s teacher companion. Others include Joseph Lash, Trude Wenzel Lash, Eleanor Roosevelt, Katharine Cornell, David Levy, Adele Levy, Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison. Keller also met Charlie Chaplin, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Martha Graham, India’s former Prime Minister Nehru, Rabindernath Tagore, the Queen of England, and 12 U.S. presidents, from Grover Cleveland to John F. Kennedy.
The Hellen Keller Foundation
In 1988, Helen Keller’s family joined a group of committed scientists to form a foundation in her name, and in her home state, with the mission of continuing her victories over blindness and deafness through research and education. Based on the legacy of Helen Keller, the Foundation strives to prevent blindness and deafness by advancing research and education. The Foundation aspires to be a leader in integrating sight, speech and hearing research with the greater biomedical research community, creating and coordinating a peer-reviewed, worldwide network of institutions.
The Helen Keller Prize
Established in 1994, the Helen Keller Prize is one of the most prestigious and coveted awards presented globally in the field of vision research, in hounour of Helen Keler.
Helen Keller in India
During one of her global tours in 1955, she visited India to help the blind, deaf and dumb people. She gave a lot of encouragement and moral support to the blind students and to the teacher working in the school for the blind, deaf and dumb. Here she met Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabinder Nath Tagore. In honour of Helen Keler India issued a postal stamp. Jawahar Lal Nehru University has named a unit in its Libraray in the name of “Helen Keler” to give access to deaf and blind students. In Mumbai and other places various schools are named in her name where a number of deaf and children with other disabilities study.
Memorials in honour of Helen Keller
A bronze statue of Helen Keller was unveiled at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as lawmakers praised her as a trailblazer and an inspiration for those with disabilities. A School, a Museum, a Hospital and a Library is named in honour of Helen Keler in USA. Her house is turned into a Muesum named as “Ivy Green”. Various countries have issued postal stamps in her name.
Death and Burial
Helen Keller never married or had children. In October 1961, Helen suffered the first of a series of strokes, and her public life was drawn to a close. She died on June 1, 1968 at the age of 87. She was laid to rest in St. Joseph’s Chapel, at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C where over 1200 people were in attendance.
On that occasion a public memorial service was held in the Cathedral. It was attended by her family and friends, government officials, prominent persons from all walks of life, and delegations from most of the organizations for the blind and deaf. Senator Lister Hill of Alabama spoke at her death, Helen Keller, “She will live on, one of the few, the immortal names not born to die.
Her spirit will endure as long as man can read and stories can be told of the woman who showed the world there are no boundaries to courage and faith.” Her legacy reminds us that with faith and courage, we can overcome obstacles in our own lives. With endurance and determination, we can help to better the lives of those around us. With love and patience, we can leave this world a better place.
“The public must learn that the blind man is neither genius nor a freak nor an idiot. He has a mind that can be educated it is the duty of the public to help him make the best of himself.” -Helen Keller
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”― Helen Keller
(The author is a regular contributor to ‘Kashmir Vision’)


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